The Temple and the Crown, by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
With The Temple and the Crown, Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris continue their work in the genre of historical fantasy. Their chosen topic, the historical and legendary Knights Templar, allows them to create a tremendously fun tale, and although the book deviates from the truest history of the knights, it illustrates an interesting, fantastical “what if” and an epic clash of divine and infernal powers.
The Temple and the Crown is the second and final book in its duology, following the events of The Temple and the Stone. In the prequel, the Knights Templar attempt to secure the future of the Templar Order and the kingship of Scotsman Robert Bruce. By the beginning of The Temple and the Crown, Bruce, assisted by Templar brothers Arnault de Saint Clair and Torquil Lennox, is embroiled in his war for independence from England. They are soon forced to confront other opponents: black magicians led by French politician Guillaume de Nogaret. As Bruce struggles to keep the English at bay, the pious Templars combat demons and twisted politicians, a fight that takes them halfway around the world and back again.
While the book doesn’t place much emphasis on political skullduggery, Kurtz and Harris deserve credit for making it easy to cheer for the good guys. On the whole, the protagonists tend to be likeable characters, as the difference between good and evil is clearly defined, even in the magic and prayers of both sides. The Templars’ opponents rely on their own power and those of dark sacrifices, while the Templars prefer prayer and dependence on divine strength. Arnault and his allies seem like underdogs compared to Nogaret’s dark power, and their constant struggles to stay alive encourage the reader to hope for their success.
That underdog status also makes it difficult to stop reading this book. The protagonists are often in danger (though they don’t always know it), making it easy to become more invested in the plot. It’s also clear that the danger is incredibly perilous, and the tension builds throughout much of the book, further increasing both investment in the characters and the reader’s desire to keep reading.
On a lesser note, Kurtz and Harris excellently avoid blatant character assassination, staying fairly respectful to the true historical characters who are present in the book. Nogaret and Pope Boniface VIII are the only two people subject to outright falsehoods about how they historically acted (neither were black magicians, unlike their portrayal). Some characters actually have their reputations positively embellished to make them more likeable, and the authors are polite enough to point out where and how they change the historical record.
Although many of the characters are handled well, the villains present problems for the book. Some of them aren’t as believable as they could be, acting so stereotypically evil that they’re almost comical caricatures instead of menacing characters. It’s clear that the authors wanted the villains to seem despicable, but the execution could have been stronger and less distracting.
Another distraction comes from the book’s uneven pacing. At times, the plot moves along at a breakneck pace, but at others it drags along. I found myself asking why some chapters are even present in the book when a short description in another chapter would have done just as well. While the plot tends to be fairly engrossing, the slower parts bring things to a grinding halt and make it difficult to continue reading. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often enough to ruin the book, but it would have been nice to see more consistency.
Despite the stylistic issues, The Temple and the Crown is guaranteed to give readers a few hours of enjoyment as they witness history unfold in a reality slightly different than our own. Staying true to history while creating an interesting fantasy tale tends to be difficult, but Kurtz’s and Harris’ novel perfectly bridges the gap between the two genres. While modern writers may debate the historical Templars’ reputation, they are the indisputable heroes of this duology, capturing a chivalric, pious spirit in an entertaining tale.
The Temple and the Crown
By Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
560 pp. Aspect, April 2001. (Varied pricing)